Activation analysis may be used to determine quantitatively traces of phosphate in natural waters. Methods based on the reaction 31P(n,γ)32P are subject to interference by sulfur and chlorine which give rise to 32P through n,p and n,α reactions. If the ratio of phosphorus to sulfur or chlorine is small, as it is in most natural waters, accurate analyses by these methods are difficult to achieve. In the activation analysis method, molybdate and tungstate ions are added to samples containing phosphate ion to form tungstomolybdophosphoric acid. The complex is extracted with 2,6-dimethyl-4-heptanone. After activation of an aliquot of the organic phase for 1 hour at a flux of 1013 neutrons per cm2, per second, the gamma spectrum is essentially that of tungsten-187. The induced activity is proportional to the concentration of phosphate in the sample. A test of the method showed it to give accurate results at concentrations of 4 to at least 200 p.p.b. of phosphorus when an aliquot of 100 μl. was activated. By suitable reagent purification, counting for longer times, and activation of larger aliquots, the detection limit could be lowered several hundredfold.
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Determination of phosphate in natural waters by activation analysis of tungstophosphoric acid